Jamie Steer

Dr Jamie Steer is interested in exploring and challenging current attitudes to biodiversity and conservation in New Zealand. He is particularly keen on spotlighting the assumptions behind our understandings of acceptable and unacceptable wildlife, and considering how these might come to change.

Reply to the Threatened Species Ambassador - So Shoot Me

Feb 21, 2018

In a recent article in The Spinoff, the Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Ambassador Nicola Toki makes three arguments. First, that native species and introduced predators in New Zealand cannot co-exist. Second, that conservation should be undertaken not only in sanctuaries, but also on private land. And third, that it is the indigenous subset of our biodiversity that fundamentally defines us as a nation. These arguments are made in direct response to last month’s Stuff article on introduced wildlife that features perspectives from a range of environmental academics and industry folk. I think two of Mrs Toki’s arguments widely miss the mark and the third deserves much closer scrutiny. Let me explain why. Argument one: Co-existence isn’t possible Mrs Toki writes that ‘some recent commentary has suggested that native species and introduced predators might peacefully co-exist and that … Read More

Are deer sort of like moa? – Part 2 - So Shoot Me

Apr 13, 2017

Dr Jamie Steer ponders whether the ‘deer are like moa’ debate has passed its use-by date. This is the second and concluding part of the series – read part one here. Critics stuck in the past I reckon that critics of the ‘deer are like moa’ position often misinterpret it. Deer advocates have never claimed that deer are the same as moa in terms of what, where and how they eat, but simply suggest that deer are functionally equivalent to moa, as large forest-dwelling herbivores. This means that they perform similar overarching roles or occupy similar niches within the forest – not that their effects are identical. And, while these critics acknowledge the importance of moa browsing in pre-human ecosystems, they also still often make the ‘straw man’ argument that enclosure plot experiments prove that browsing damages forests. Observing … Read More

Are deer sort of like moa? - So Shoot Me

Apr 12, 2017

In this two-part series, Dr Jamie Steer ponders whether the ‘deer are like moa’ debate has passed its use-by date. Writing on the impacts of introduced deer in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute in 1892, the Reverend P. Walsh argued that New Zealand’s native forests were poorly equipped to deal with grazing mammals. Taking the pre-human forest as his Edenic baseline, he felt that species like deer should be removed from the wild as soon as possible. Later, in the 1920s, the influential local botanist Leonard Cockayne argued along similar lines, noting with horror that deer were gobbling up his favourite plants. Around the same time, ‘enclosure plot’ studies were first established in the country. Sections of native forest were fenced off from grazing mammals and the vegetation within these plots was compared to that outside. The results soon … Read More

Why the bastard ‘grallard’ is my favourite duck - So Shoot Me

Mar 27, 2017

I was talking with a guy the other day about ducks and somehow got on to discussing favourites. His was the endangered New Zealand whio, or blue duck, because it’s on our $10 note.  He said, “That’s a bird that knows how to sell itself.” “Maybe that’s true,” I said, “but I haven’t seen many around recently so I wouldn’t know.” We agreed that they had a pretty great strategy before people arrived 800 years ago. Good for them. I told him my favourite was the New Zealand ‘grallard’, the bastard love child of the introduced mallard and the native grey duck, and now New Zealand’s most common duck. This at first seemed to both perplex and bewilder him but, once he’d settled down, I ran him through my reasons and in the end he accepted that I’d made … Read More

Celebrating our ‘Kiwi’ Trout – Part 2 - Guest Work

Feb 14, 2017

New Zealand’s trout and salmon species are here to stay and every year they are evolving to become more a part of the unique fabric of this country, both culturally and genetically. In this second post in a two part series, Dr Jamie Steer says it’s to time recognise this and celebrate our wildlife – both new and old. You can read his first post on the evolution of trout and salmon in New Zealand here. ‘New’ native organisms? Dozens of international studies in recent years have documented rapid rates of evolutionary change on time scales as short as a few generations. Such ‘rapid evolution’ has been observed in multiple taxa from microbes to vertebrates, including adaptive responses to human influences such as the development of antibiotic and pesticide resistance, and changes in body size and life history. For … Read More